Episode Overview: When an SEO specialist joins a product marketing team or an engineering team, they can apply their unique skillset to effectively improve overall SEO endeavors. Join host Ben as he speaks with Realtor.com’s Director of Product Jeffrey Preston who shares his experiences as a SEO lead and a director of product. He shares unique insights on how the two overlap, the differences between them and how his unique skillset improves SEO effectiveness.
- Meeting user needs to make a site faster and easier to use for site visitors is a key discipline for SEO specialists working in product marketing.
- Product-led SEO teams tend to think more about how to build something, like intuitive websites, before launching them, but aren’t necessarily focused on pure leads and conversions like SEO marketers.
- It’s important to continue nurturing cross-department relationships with SEOs in marketing, engineering and product to ensure all SEO efforts are effectively executed.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
Ben: Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’re talking to one of my favorite SEOs who has experience working at some of the largest brands in the world. Joining us today is Jeffrey Preston, who is the director of product at Realtor.com, a subsidiary of News Corp. Prior to his current role, Jeffrey was responsible for optimizing SEO for Realtor.com. And before that, he managed SEO at a little company called the Walt Disney Corporation. And today Jeffrey and I are going to talk about integrating SEO and product strategies. All right, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jeffrey Preston, director of product at Realtor.com, which is a subsidiary of News Corp. Jeff, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.
Jeffrey: Thank you for having me.
Ben: Hey, always good to have a friend of the program back on. And you might not think so, but I think congratulations are in order. Your title changed at least, maybe it’s the same role, we’ll talk about that. But you were the head of SEO and now you are a director of product at News Corp working on Realtor.com. Tell me what the heck the difference is between the two. And you’re buying drinks next time we get together, right?
Jeffrey: Okay, fair enough.
Jeffrey: Yeah. At Realtor, the SEO is part of the product team rather than marketing or growth. It’s a little bit interesting. I’ve never done it that way before, and there led a team that’s a product team. But as I’ve got used to it and kind of went through a culture shock of going from marketing to product, there’s definitely some advantages working with the engineering team.
Ben: So, it makes sense that having your team centered around product basically focuses your SEO efforts more on the inputs than the outputs. Talk to me about the thought process and the way that product teams think about their roadmap, their prioritization, and how’s that different from a marketing-centric SEO team?
Jeffrey: That’s a great question. So, I think for a product team or the way product people often think is shipping things that make the product better. And when we think about SEO, if we think about it as like a race car analogy. We just want to make the car a little bit faster or handle a little bit better, or have a little bit more horsepower. So, we can think about the SEO tasks that we have to make our website better, that’ll perform better within search.
Ben: Yeah. I’ll use the car metaphor here. And sorry to interrupt you. It seems like the focus is well, hey, we’re going to focus on building a better car as a product team, as opposed to, we’re going to focus on either selling more cars or building cars that have more horsepower or that go faster as a marketing KPI. Talk to me a little bit more about how that impacts and do you just get to not focus on the numbers and marketing stuff now?
Jeffrey: Yeah, we definitely still do. We look at the numbers every day, but it’s more of can we have less errors? So our technical SEO becomes more, “Make the site error free.” And in that way, when we have a product roadmap, we can do like, “Hey, for the next 90 days, these are all the things we’re going to try to accomplish to make it a better site.” And usually in product, you’re trained to think about the user needs and helping the user perform whatever tasks they need to do on the website. We can kind of think about it in the way of making it easier for Google or Googlebot. When we talk about Google, how can I make Googlebot understand my site easier? And these are all the things I’m going to ship this quarter to accomplish that.
Ben: So, you have a more customer-centric focus. When you’re thinking about what products to build, you’re not necessarily looking at the rankings as the KPI. It is Google is my customer. And then there is the end customer, which is the people that are conducting the searches. Talk to me about the amount of analysis that you’re doing to understand what the impact that your product decisions are happening, as opposed to thinking about it from a marketing perspective, which is how do I rank higher? How do I get more clicks? How do I drive more revenue?
Jeffrey: Right. Definitely I have that background where we’re going to look at the numbers every day. And we’re going to look at how we’re doing with rankings. We’re going to look at the share voice against competitors. We’re going to look at just those raw traffic numbers. Still have an eye on those numbers. But to think about how we organize our work and the ways we think about getting things done, again, it’s more based on meeting user needs and making the site better, faster, easier for users. And if we focus on that and if we kind of have discipline around those things, then usually we felt like we would get rewarded with better rankings and more traffic and more people coming back to the site.
Ben: So, talk to me about your cross-functional relationships. It seems like as a marketing SEO team, you’re constantly horsetrading, begging, borrowing and stealing from your engineering resources. And that’s a relationship that is not in the same organization. So, you’re constantly relationship building there. Do you find yourself doing the same, collaborating with the marketing team and you’re still having to do cross-functional coordination as much? Or when you’re all sort of in the same team, SEO, product, the developers, the engineering component, does life just get easier?
Jeffrey: Yeah. A couple of things. It definitely gets easier. And if I think back about my days at Disney, Disney is more of a relationship company where work gets done because of your personal relationships with people across the company. When we came to this product org, and the product org at Realtor.com is, a lot of the leadership is based in the Bay Area. So, it’s more of a Silicon Valley OKR kind of thought process there. The product usually is kind of has a leadership over what gets done on the site. And then, work strongly with engineering to schedule and to get that work done.
Jeffrey: And then, marketing’s a little bit … I don’t want to say they’re not on the side of course, but marketing’s doing things that are maybe not under the hood as much as the product and the engineering team working together. So, as far as prioritization, it’s really easy because at least at Realtor, there’s an SEO tech team and SEO product team. And so, meeting with them every single day, we can plan out what we’re going to do two weeks at a time. And we don’t have to beg, borrow and steal like we would usually do in marketing.
Ben: So, you’ve been on both sides of the fence. I think I know what the answer of this is. And you probably should say that it is a product-led SEO team, just for the sake of not getting fired. Talk to me about some of the trade-offs between being a marketing-led SEO team and a product-led SEO team.
Jeffrey: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think with a product team, there’s more of a thought about building things and then shipping them off. When we say shipping them, that more means moving them into the production environment, writing code, working with engineers to get it done and then shipping it off. So, for the product team, it’s about kind of building a faster car or building a car that works better, a car that’s more efficient. And then, marketing tends to be more of just hitting traffic and conversion goals. And as long as traffic’s coming in or the traffic is growing, I think that’s probably good enough. But on a product team that’s maybe where they don’t think about that. They think more about like, “Hey, has our site become better over time?”
Ben: Yeah. It seems like with the, “has our site become better over time?” My instinct is, well, people are happier using it. The experience feels better, but as a marketer, I think that the focus is always going to be on business performance and metrics. How do you think about evaluating performance of SEO and how has that changed with your product focus as opposed to previous marketing focus?
Jeffrey: Right. I think, again, if you think about marketing leadership, they might say like, “Hey, here are a bunch of numbers we want you to grow to.” And then when those get rolled downhill to us, we’re thinking like, “Okay, what can we do to hit those numbers?” I think on the product side, they might think more about, “Hey, I think we’d have a better experience if the site loaded a lot faster, if on a mobile device it worked really well, if we had less errors, less internal redirects.” Those kind of technical SEO things, I think tend to lend themselves more to a product orientation.
Ben: No, it seems like you have a customer focus. When you’re working in a product organization, marketers aren’t thinking about the customer. When you are executing SEO strategies, are you thinking about individual personas? We’re making these pages, this style, we’re prioritizing this type of content or this page structure to optimize because these consumers need it. Or are you just thinking broadly of all of the consumers that are Realtor.com customers.
Jeffrey: We’re thinking about it specifically. So if you think about real estate, there’s a first time home buyer, and then there’s definitely someone that needs … That’s a different experience than “This is your fourth or fifth house.”
Ben: I’m assuming there’s also realtors that are actually using the site and other entities, not just homes searchers.
Jeffrey: Correct. Correct. And then there’s people that are selling their home, they might have different needs. There’s people that are renting, looking for apartments, maybe owners of homes that are renting out. So, within real estate, there’s a whole bunch of different people. And so, we just want to make sure that all the products that they’re interacting with are, again, top notch, but also from a SEO point of view, I want to make sure that whatever keywords those different groups are searching for that we’re going to be able to lead them to the right experience.
Ben: I guess my last question for you is, I understand from a technical perspective, why having a product-led SEO team makes a lot of sense. You’re buddying up with engineers. You’re a little closer to getting the technical things accomplished on your site. When you think about the creative aspect and the content, what you’re actually publishing, have you felt like being in the product organization has removed you from the creative aspects on some level? Do you find that there’s an impact in terms of the content production?
Jeffrey: Yes and no. So at Realtor, the marketing team is the one that works on the content and we have a lot of blogs, professionally written blogs. So, I have to work maybe a little extra hard to make sure to keep those relationships strong. So for example, like our lead editor, having one-on-ones with him at a regular cadence to make sure like, “Hey, these are the things we’re working on editorially. I want to make sure that they’re done in an SEO friendly way.” The paid search team that is doing all the performance marketing, they’re also in marketing. I want to make sure that we’re sharing information, what’s working with us, or even how we’re changing the site that might impact them. So, there’s some work to be done of keeping those roots and keeping those relationships in marketing.
Ben: It seems like the devil’s always in the details. And I, having worked in content businesses for a long time, think of SEO as a … And maybe people will roll their eyes here that are the hardcore technical SEOs. But I think of SEO being a content first channel, and maybe that’s me as a marketer really, that’s my background is being more of a general digital marketer than it is specifically being an SEO.
Ben: But I think of what’s the word you’re going to put on the page? What are you trying to rank for? All of that sort of like, how are we going to, not necessarily game, but play within Google’s environment to make sure that our content is surfaced? And then a portion of that is doing all of your technical optimization. It seems like your team’s strategy has been “Let’s focus on the technical, let the marketing and the content creators live in a separate team.” So you still have to manage those cross-functional relationships. It used to be managing the engineering team relationship, right? Getting all of your product resources. And now it’s, you’re still managing external resources. They’re just on the creative and content side.
Jeffrey: Correct. Correct. That’s a great way to think about it. There’s definitely … And again, those relationships are very important with my marketing colleagues. And they have my cell phone, they can reach out 24/7, if there’s anything we can do to help. But I think for us, the way to be more successful, again, at a big real estate site, was to make sure that we’ve got the technical stuff locked down and we’re doing all of that stuff right. And to do that the best for us, it made sense to be part of the product org and the product org working together with engineering.
Ben: Really interesting. Again, congratulations.
Jeffrey: Thank you.
Ben: If nothing else, it’s a new title. And we’re looking forward to continuing our conversation again with you tomorrow. So, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jeffrey Preston, the director of product at Realtor.com, a subsidiary of News Corp.
Ben: We’d love to continue this conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Jeffrey, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is jeffreypreston, J-E-F-F-E-R-Y-P-R-E-S-T-O-N. Or you can visit his company’s website, which is Realtor.com.
Ben: Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter. And my personal handle is benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.